Politics. Sports. Relationships. Philosophy. Religion. History. While the Greeks used the Schools of Athens to discuss such issues, Afro-Caribbean men used the barber shop. For the entire black community and for myself, the barber shop has always been the epicentre of exchange of laughs, ideas, thoughts and feelings of both young and old men, African or Caribbean. The barber shop provides an atmosphere where you’re not judged by what you do for a living or where you are come from. Instead you are accepted as a brother, invited to bring any opinions to the table and the only thing expected of you in return is to have a good time.
When I was still in the single digits, I dreaded with passion anytime my mother scrunched my thick lump of hair and told me I was in bad need of a haircut or more bluntly how she put it, “No son of mine is going to be mistaken for being homeless, because he looks so scruffy”. But up until my 10th birthday, my mother was always the one who cut my hair, a clean shave all-round always seemed to suffice. But I was 10 now, practically a man by my standards and as a man it was my lawful right to get a man’s haircut and no way if I respected my street creed would I allow my mum to cut my hair. What does a man’s hair cut look like? I still don’t know to this day, but back then as a long as a black premier league player and a predilection for trickery on the ball and especially when they donned a Manchester united, that was what I considered a man’s haircut. So what hair cut did I decide on, the classic Mohawk. But initially the idea of the barbers conjured some trepidation, I wasn’t looking forward to the pain of getting my hair cut or the long the wait for my turn to get my hair cut, which was practically excruciating considering in child years, 30 minutes is practically 30 years. But the first time I walked into the barber shop, trepidation quickly fell out of sight while I was captivated by these football pundits, politicians, philosophers, economists and even pastors rolled all into one. These men from all walks of life, nationalities and ages spoke the hearts content with so much passion, energy and articulation that I soon redefined what I considered to be a man.
I considered the men at the barber shop real men, because they were role models that looked like me and came from the same places I did. When I was younger, the world didn’t know of anyone called Barak Obama so was still under the notion that it would take a very long time before a black man could ever be elected to power in either England or America. So when I imagined a MP I always pictured a white guy who lived in a 5 bedroom house with horses running in his back garden; but the men in the barber shop showed me that the black community could contribute so much to the running of country. At that impressionable age knowing that was such an inspiring thing, it taught me that politics wasn’t just boring things men in suits shouting at each other in a big room about like I had seen on TV, politics was about changing the world for the better and bringing people together.
The barber shop is all about bringing people together, no matter if your Zimbabwean or from the Tobago, the barber shop is where we all convene to not only accept but to celebrate our differences. At one moment you can hear a man speaking about economic stability across Africa in plain English, then at the other end of the room you can hear a couple of guys jeering a referee for giving Liverpool a penalty in French, while the guy next to you sings along to a reggae song. At times the barber shop seems to bring more languages and nations together than G20 summit and Eurovision combined. But the absolute best bit is even if your country rakes in billions from oil each year or is barely able to provide food to its poor children or if your country mainly listens to reggae or afro beats. When you step into the barber shop you as well as your country is seen as an equal. And this philosophy extends to the different generations, “Child are supposed to be seen not heard” well not at the barber shop, you can be 16 or 60 if you have something to say the room was your audiences.
It wasn’t all news night at the barber shop, there was always time for jokes, teasing and light hearted fun. It’s always been a paradox that men only really bond when they are insulting each other and nowhere is that statement truer than in the barber shop. Always leg pulling was intended to be harmless, but at anytime you take it to heart never let it show, because it only makes the jokes come faster. The only way to survive gag eat gag world of the barber shop, is to give as good as you get. A good sense of humour is the currency of choices when the money was left at the front door.
From the first time onwards, walking into the barber shop was always like walking into a coliseum, where the warriors used words instead of spears, passion and humour instead of anger and hatred. It soon became a home away from home, which was always awash with colour, vibrancy and energy. A place where you were sooner judged by your taste in football teams then by how much was in your bank. A place where you could talk and talk to your heart’s content and always be guaranteed to know more about the world and life than when you walked in.